When Mike D’Antoni took over the Phoenix Suns in 2003 and started incorporating his plan to blow the doors off of the rest of the NBA, the coach remembers looking at the stat sheet almost sheepishly when he saw how many 3-pointers they were taking.
“We’d put up 25 and get scared, like ‘Oh my gosh, maybe we’re doing too much,’” D’Antoni recalled this week.
If he only knew then the revolution that he started.
In his first season in Houston, D’Antoni has found the perfect marriage between a coach’s approach and an organizational philosophy. And the Rockets are soaring because of it. They set NBA records with 24 made 3s and a staggering 61 attempts in a win over New Orleans on Friday night, then put up the second-most 3s in league history with 51 in a comeback win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
The Rockets have won 10 straight games to improve to 21-7, and D’Antoni isn’t about to put any limits on how many 3s his team will hoist.
“That’s the good thing about being in Houston. They kind of like that. Mathematics have said it’s OK,” D’Antoni said. “So we’re just kind of pushing the envelope as far as we can go. And I don’t know where that will end, but 61 is a good start.”
There is no bigger envelope pusher in the league than Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who took heat for hiring D’Antoni with owner Leslie Alexander’s blessing because many thought the Rockets needed a defensive mind after last season’s train wreck on that end of the floor.
But the Rockets are a respectable 14th in defensive rating and make up for any shortcomings there by embracing modern analytics that put a premium on 3s, layups and free throws.
James Harden is an MVP candidate again, Eric Gordon is enjoying a rebirth in his first year in Houston and Ryan Anderson is letting it fly. The Rockets lead the NBA with 417 3s attempted — 81 more than the splash family in Golden State — and are fourth in 3-point accuracy.
The efficacy of the approach was readily apparent in Minnesota on Saturday, when the Rockets hit five 3s in the final three minutes to erase a 12-point deficit and force overtime.
“I don’t ever see us out of a game,” Harden said. “We score the ball so easily, so well.”
The NBA has taken over Christmas Day, owning the holiday from the afternoon well into the night. Here’s a quick look at the games this Sunday, the unofficial start to the league year:
uBoston at New York, 12 p.m. EST: Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks have lost three straight and face the improving Celtics, who are still trying to find another gear with Al Horford healthy.
uGolden State at Cleveland, 2:30 p.m.: The long-awaited rematch of one of the best NBA Finals in years, served up just after you’ve assembled a toy or two for the kids to play with.
uChicago at San Antonio, 5 p.m.: Dwyane Wade and the struggling Bulls look for this showcase slot to get them going against former Bull Pau Gasol and the Spurs.
uTimberwolves at Thunder, 8 p.m.: This was supposed to be the coming-out party for the young Wolves in the small-market special, but they are off to a horrid 7-19 start.
uClippers at Lakers, 10:30 p.m.: After putting the kids to bed, unwind from the hectic holiday season with a Tinseltown nightcap.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK:
Bradley Beal, Wizards, 41 points, 13-23 FG, 6-10 3s, 9-11 FTs vs. Clippers on Sunday. With apologies to Russell Westbrook, who could appear in this space just about every week, Beal’s stat line against the Clippers was one of the most encouraging lines of the week. After injuries for the last two years, Beal has regained his form and helped the Wizards rebound from a horrible start to the season. Their surprise win over Los Angeles was the team’s third in a row and fifth out of the last six games to move them to 12-14 after a 2-8 start.